Tuesday 23 January 2018

Nightmare in a holiday paradise

Gemma O'Doherty

A friend of mine has called off her dream honeymoon at a secluded resort in Kenya after a British holidaymaker, David Tebbutt, 58, was murdered there recently.

I didn't sway her either way, though I think she made the right call. During their flight to the no-news-no-shoes resort of Kiwayu Safari Lodge last week, Judith, 56, David's deaf wife, expressed similar fears about travelling there, confiding in a fellow passenger that she was nervous about going.

Her instincts did not fail her.

Just hours after the couple arrived, a gang of pirates burst into their bedroom and killed her husband, before bundling Judith, kicking and screaming, into a speedboat and sailing to neighbouring Somalia.

Shamefully, the Department of Foreign Affairs hasn't bothered to update their travel advice to the country since this tragic incident to warn Irish citizens of the risks of travelling there.

Are they too busy hailing taxis at our expense?

Fortunately, its more clued-in Australian equivalent paints a stark picture of what life is like in Kenya for western tourists today.

Armed banditry, kidnapping and muggings are 'common' in the country's main cities, beach resorts and other areas frequented by tourists, it says, and there are growing concerns that the recent murder/kidnap was anything but a one-off.

Until now, all other western hostages in the region have been taken during raids from ships in the Indian Ocean.

But security experts are increasingly convinced that the crazed Islamist pirates who target luxury yachts at sea and make millions on ransoms are turning their attention to five-star resorts along the East African coast, where chilled-out westerners make for easy pickings as they sunbathe on the sand.

Kiwayu, which is now closed, is a two-hour speedboat ride through a mangrove delta north of the popular tourist destination of Lamu Island. Its 18 thatched cottages along a mile of sheltered beach are guarded by little more than armies of pink crabs.

The same applies to many plush resorts from Tanzania to Zanzibar, all easily within the pirates' reach.

In the months before this latest killing, security in the region had decreased considerably as boat-loads of pirates encroach inland, planning raids and abductions from hotels with no perimeter fencing or locked doors.

The travel industry doesn't like to talk about these dangers. Quite the opposite.

Last week, tour operators were rolled out by Kenyan authorities in London to say that visitors to the country were safe and there was no need to rethink bookings. The Tebbutt family might find that a little hard to stomach.

This may be the first time western hostages have been seized on land rather than at sea in this pocket of paradise, but it's unlikely it will be the last.

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